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AT&T network reports nationwide outage, raising concerns about emergency calls

AT&T wireless customers in cities across the country lost service overnight, causing frustration and concern about disruptions to 911 dispatches.

Around 3:30 a.m. ET Thursday, outages reported by downdetector.com suddenly spiked from just a handful, peaking at more than 73,000 by around 8:20 a.m. ET. By around 10:30 a.m., the number of reports to the website had dropped to just less than 62,000.

In a statement emailed to NPR, AT&T said: "Some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning. We are working urgently to restore service to them. We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored."

What to do without service

Some AT&T customers saw SOS messages displayed in the status bar on their cellphones. The message indicates that the device is having trouble connecting to their cellular provider’s network.

That can be a big problem in an emergency. AT&T urged customers to connect to Wi-Fi to use their phones.

Wi-Fi calling is a built-in feature on most Android devices and iPhones and can be turned on under the phone's settings.

“Some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning. We are working urgently to restore service to them. We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored,” AT&T said in a statement.

If Wi-Fi isn't available, there are few options for cell phone users. It's possible to switch services if a phone is unlocked, but that requires signing up online and  porting your phone number.

Some apps, including Google Maps, have limited service offline. Payment apps also do not use a phone's cell service to work and should also be useable.